The Hardwood Blues 2014-15 NCAA Preview Pt. 2: Go, West

Earlier this week, the NCAA released its preliminary watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, handed out annually to the nation’s top point guard. The list, headlined by pre-season 1st team All-American Marcus Paige, includes 36 collegiate floor generals from across the country. Conspicuously (but not surprisingly) absent from the short-list is the player who I think has a good chance to be the NCAA’s best point guard this upcoming season, Northwestern State’s Jalan West.

West is a diminutive mid-major guard from Bossier City, Louisiana. In an era before analytics, College Basketball-Reference, and the rest, he would have been the kind of player destined to put up Iverson numbers in Greece and stay under the radar for his entire basketball career. The fact that he was unable to crack the pre-season top 36, which goes so deep as to include sleepers like Alex Caruso and Keifer Sykes, supports this assertion. Luckily for Jalan, these resources do exist now, because holy shit are his stats amazing. What is astounding about West’s statistical profile is that he checks every single box for an elite point guard prospect. His counting stats are inflated due to Northwestern State’s pace of play, which ranks first in the entire NCAA according to kenpom.com, but he is such an all-around dominator that even his pace-adjusted numbers put him in a tier with some of the best college point guards of the last fifteen years.

Player 2P% 3P% FT% REB/40 AST/40 STL/40 TO/40 PTS/40
Jalan West (RS-So.)* .504 .409 .876 4.2 6.6 2.6 2.8 20.2
Ty Lawson (Jr.)* .560 .472 .798 3.4 7.6 2.5 2.1 19.4
Jay Williams (So.) .520 .427 .659 4.1 7.6 2.5 5.0 27.1
Chris Paul (Fr.)* .511 .465 .843 5.6 7.2 2.6 3.0 16.5
Darren Collison (So.)* .511 .463 .807 2.8 7.3 2.8 3.6 15.7
Jason Williams (Jr.)** .483 .403 .840 4.0 8.0 3.0 5.0 21.0
Mike Bibby (So.)** .526 .387 .755 4.0 6.0 3.0 4.0 17.0
Stephen Curry (Jr.)* .519 .387 .876 5.0 6.2 2.8 4.1 31.9
Andrew Wisniewski (So.)** .483 .438 .764 4.0 7.0 2.0 5.0 23.0

*Pace Adjusted (courtesy of RealGM.com)

**Rounded out Per 40 stats (courtesy of Statsheet.com)

Unlike some of my other statistical comparisons where I cherry pick more notable players to use as a familiar frame of reference, this is an exhaustive list of NCAA players who have put up all-around stats like Jalan West since the 1997-98 season. The exact parameters I used were: Freshman, Sophomore, or Junior, 2P%>.48, 3P%>.38, AST/G>5.5, STL/G>2, and PTS/40>15 (this is why I left out the light-scoring T.J. McConnell). These benchmarks are somewhat arbitrary, but consider that if I made stricter parameters (such as: 2P%>.5, 3P%>.4, FT%>.8, AST/G>6, PTS/40>18) Jalan would stand alone without precedent. Needless to say, the track record of college point guards who shoot this efficiently, distribute well, and collect lots of steals is nothing short of tremendous. The exclusive list features NBA superstars (Paul, Curry), long-time starters and role players (Collison, White Chocolate, Bibby, Lawson), a snake-bitten former #2 overall pick (Jay Williams), and someone named Andrew Wisniewski.

I’d like to focus for a bit on Wisniewski, as he is the only player on the list who would not become a starting point guard in the NBA. Wisniewski, or “Wiz” as he is awesomely nicknamed, was an underrated high school recruit out of Staten Island who landed at nearby St. Peters University. After spending one year at St. Peters, Wiz transferred to Centenary College of Louisiana which, uninterestingly enough, is in Shreveport; the larger sister city of Bossier City, where Jalan West is from. After three stat-stuffing seasons at Centenary, Wisniewski went undrafted in 2004 and embarked on a highly successful eight-year career playing overseas which included earning All-Star honors in the German Bundesliga (where he was the leading scorer), a Croatian A-1 Liga championship, and an Israeli Cup Finals MVP. Based on his college stats and subsequent accomplishments as a professional, it seems possible that he truly was NBA caliber, but simply came along at the wrong time. Between his low-profile as a collegian and his dubious eye test, I think it’s fair to assume that Wiz was never given a fair shake at the NBA. His Wikipedia page doesn’t mention so much as a Summer League or training camp invite, which he almost certainly would have been afforded by a statistically-conscious franchise in today’s NBA. Whether or not he would have stuck is another question entirely, one that I am not equipped to answer seeing as I have never watched the young man play basketball.

In all likelihood, Jalan West’s career will resemble something like Wisniewski’s; several short stints across Europe and Asia, with a few All-Star appearances and maybe even an MVP mixed in. Even in the age of YouTube and analytics, the odds are stacked against 5’10” mid-major point guards, especially ones who fail to register on the radar even after compiling numbers worthy of a lottery pick. On the bright side, Jalan has two more years of college ball left, and Northwestern State’s upcoming schedule includes four power conference opponents against whom he can prove his legitimacy. West is no CP3 or Steph Curry, but I don’t find it unreasonable that the very upper bound of his potential could be in the realm of a Darren Collison or Mike Bibby. Whether or not NBA GMs see it the same way is anybody’s guess (my guess: no), but I will be rooting for him every step of the way.

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